Another round on greenhouse

Ken Parish responds to my piece on the rate of global warming with a range of issues. I’ll start with the easy ones. Ken notes what appear to be two offsetting errors, saying

[John] says the current warming record shows a trend of 0.2 degrees C per decade. In fact, it’s about 0.4 degrees over the last 26 years (which is somewhat lower than John says). John also observes that IPCC says about half of this increase is attributable to human emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact IPCC says just under 3/4 is attributable to human emissions. As you can see, this amounts to approximately 0.1 degrees C per decade from human greenhouse emissions. Hence, as I’ve observed before, a straight line extrapolation of current warming trends results in an approximate temperature increase of about 1 degree C by 2100. John reaches that figure (because his two errors cancel each other out), and agrees that a warming of that magnitude and speed isn’t too much to worry about.

I’ve been a bit rushed during the move, and have been making a few minor errors, but this time I’m pretty much in the clear. I ran a regression estimate for the trend which came out at 0.196 degrees per decade and I knew that the IPCC had attributed 0.1 degrees to emissions so I worked backward to get 1/2.

Ken also makes some good points about population growth, saying that UN estimates have been revised downwards. However, the most contentious IPCC estimates (the A scenarios) have population stabilising around 9 billion, which is the estimate cited by Ken.
The big issue relates to the question of whether if economic growth continues at , say, 3.6 per cent per year, and no specific mitigation action is taken, emissions will keep growing or remain stable. I assert that, under Business As Usual emissions are likely to double. Ken suggests that this requires that the rate of economic growth should also double to 7.2 per cent. I say that as long as GDP grows steadily at a constant rate, so will emissions and therefore the rate of growth of atmospheric concentration and the rate of increase of equilibrium temperature.

Ken’s argument reflects a confusion between stocks, flows and acceleration. HTML is not well-suited to resolving this kind of thing, but I’ll try my best. Under the standard model in which equilbrium temperature depends on the concentration of greenhouse gases, the following types of variables should move together (not necessarily proportionally, since there are lags, sinks, feedbacks etc)

Concentration of CO2
Equilibrium Temperature
Cumulative Emissions
Cumulative world output of goods &services

Addition to concentrations of CO2
Rate of change in equilibrium temperature
Annual emissions
Annual output (GDP)

Acceleration in growth of CO2 concentration
Acceleration in temperature change
Rate of growth of annual emissions
Rate of growth of GDP

So with a constant growth rate of GDP (and BAU) , output, emissions and the rate of temperature change all rise steadily. Because the energy-intensity of GDP declines with rising income, you need something like a quadrupling of GDP tp get a doubling of emissions, but this doesn’t affect the main point.

It’s not easy to see this by eyeballing the data for a decade or two – in fact, it’s quite difficult statistically to distinguish between a linear trend and an exponential if the growth rate is modest. But the basic logic set out above is clear-cut. I’ll try soon to make available a PDF file in which this is proved algebraically – words are really cumbersome for this kind of problem.

Hans Blix

Chris Suellentrop at Slate does a job on Hans Blix, the head of the UNMOVIC, the UN weapons inspection team. Unlike most of the many critics of Blix, he does concede Blix’s role in detecting the North Korean nuclear program. But as with the majority of US commentary on this issue, he fails to mention the fact that the first set of UN inspections found and destroyed Saddam’s nuclear weapons program.

This is not to say that Saddam may not have tried again, and of course he’s used chemical weapons (let’s pass over the fact that he was a ‘good guy’ at the time). But the assumption that inspections are bound to fail seems misplaced to me, especially as the Iraqis are taking a strong line in denial, rather than making some sort of ambiguous half-admission. If they haven’t destroyed (nearly) everything it shouldn’t be too hard to catch them.

Of course there could be data on a CD-ROM in Saddam’s jacket pocket, but nearly every actual weapon is detectable and the Iraqis are almost certainly behind the curve in their knowledge of advances in detection techniques over the past decade.

Short and sharp

Don Arthur has a string of great posts, including one on whether posts should be short and sharp. I don’t think they need to be, but the problem is that it’s easier to do a short, sharp link to a short sharp post. I can’t think of anything short and sharp to say about Don’s recent thoughts, except that everyone should go and read them. The same goes for Rob Schaap.

Update As so often with this blog, the comments thread adds far more value to the debate than the original post. Read the fascinating discussion between Simon and Ken Parish, with a brief contribution from me. Then read Don Arthur and Rob Schaap. That’ll take quite a while, but I think it’s time better spent than on the opinion pages of the papers or watching the TV news.

Meanwhile my open forum (Thoughts for Thursday) is uncharacteristically quiet. There seem to be lots of new visitors to the blog since I completed my move to Queensland, so why don’t you share your thoughts on any topic you please, particularly what you like or don’t like about this blog.

Really dumb warnings

Now that I’m back in sunny Queensland I need a sunshield for the windscreen of my car. So I dragged out the one I bought when I lived in the US ten years ago. On the back, along with the patent numbers etc, it bears the warning DO NOT DRIVE WITH SHIELD IN PLACE

I wonder, did someone actually do this and sue them, or do consumer products companies have staff paid to think of really dumb ways their customers could injure themselves.

America's spirit of Thanksgiving has a new home

Bruce Wolpe has an interesting comparison of Australian and American responses to terrorist attacks, noting that Australia is a place where the pursuit of happiness is taken seriously. I mentioned a while ago that Australia could do with our own version of the First Amendment. If we ever become a republic, it would be nice if we could manage a founding document that could bear comparison with the Declaration of Independence.

Thoughts for Thursday

Monday messages have been very successful, but people tend to stop commenting once the post falls halfway down the page. So I’ve decided to go bi-weekly with this feature. You can post your thoughts on any topic in the comments thread for this post (civilised discussion and no coarse language).

My suggested starter – what can I do to improve this blog? Suggestions that I should get someone else to write it will not be entertained.

Website transfer

I’m making painstaking progress with transferring my website to UQ. Here’s the promised review of Lessig.

An interesting sidelight is that my ANU website had absolute addresses (that is, the complete URL) whereas the orthodoxy says you should have relative addresses to make transfers easy. The positive result is that having copied my homepage to the UQ site, all the links to files at ANU still work. I’m not sure if this refutes the standard argument for relative addresses, but it certainly tips the balance a bit.

The last stand of the Keating elite

As the comments thread for a recent post made clear, the most notable single representative of the Keating era elite consensus (free-market economic reform and aggressive social progressivism) has been Paul Kelly’s Australian. Today’s editorial plaintively asserts that “Howard must revive that reform feeling”. It starts out with a standard bold generality “A secure economic future for Australia demands bold policy initiatives and a new wave of structural reforms that will help create wealth in which all Australians can share. ” But all that’s proposed is the dead duck of Telstra privatisation (a ‘bold’ proposal that’s been floating around for 15 years or so) and tax-welfare reform along the lines of the Five Economists’ plan that the government rejected three or four years ago.

For good or ill, the free-market reform agenda is essentially played out. The big action in the future will be in health and education, areas where there is no serious proposal for a fully market-oriented solution and where a range of partial market-oriented reforms have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods.

And while I think Howard’s success in changing the terms of debate on social issues has been greatly overstated, it’s clear that top-down elitism of the kind exemplified by Keating is, and will remain, on the nose with the Australian public with respect to both social and economic issues.

A brand new euphemism

Janet Albrechtsen attacks as un-American those Australians who would like to work European hours like the 35 per week that was until recently, within 10 per cent of the Australian full-time norm. Her boilerplate about European sclerosis and poor employment growth sounds as if it has been recycled from 1999, when the dynamic US economy was creating jobs at a steady clip and we were promised a never-ending boom.

But there is something new in this sentence “It [the union movement] champions a collectively dumb group-think vision that reflects an unease over the natural layering that emerges from disparities in talent.” The repetitive abuse of ‘collectively dumb group-think vision’ alerts us that something special is on the way, and we are not disappointed. Growing inequality has now become ‘natural layering’. Good one, Janet!

By the way, this is my first post from my new office at the University of Queensland. Normal service should be restored soon.